Great pictures don't make memories—Part III

Part II started the discussion of how we use photography to make remembrances. In this Part we discuss how to improve your Mementos through the process of mindful iteration.

Orienting yourself toward making remembrances instead of capturing the slices of time which look like cold, bland memories is not an easy task. One of the biggest issues is resisting the responsibility of deciding what deserves to be a remembrance. After all, photographers are always serving the audience, and what we exclude will be unknown. People who aren’t comfortable making a remembrance or are too insecure to take on the responsibility of making one, instead rely on spray and pray, or upon the tried and true typical images which are often posed. The feeling of self-doubt and being overwhelmed leads to an inability to select what’s relevant. To address that feeling of fear, snapshooters include as much as they can in a scene without making a decision about relevancy, or they spray and pray in the hopes of figuring out later what was relevant. This is not the way to make photographs, and it certainly won’t make remembrances. But it’s a difficult fear to overcome, especially if over time you’ve fallen into the role of being the default photographer with the people you care about. It will take time and practice before the value of your selective approach starts becoming not only obvious, but appreciated.

To speed up that process, follow these steps:

  1. Think about your own remembrances, and get a sense of the features and subjects to which you hold on. It’s not a bad idea to ask other people about their remembrances as well.
  2. Be objective and honest in your observations to see moments which fit into the pattern of what people like to remember.
  3. Trust yourself to take on the role of making remembrances for your audience.  The “decisive moment” isn’t just about the moment of knowing when to act—it’s taking the responsibility of the acting itself. The photographer has to make the decision of what to photograph. A decision is an affirmative act; it’s the decisive-choice. It is not the random chance of spray and pray. 
  4. When you develop the image, keep in mind that you are engaging in creating the process of a remembrance. This is a vital step in the process, and your image can rise to the level of a remembrance if you orient yourself toward the importance of the moment captured rather than concern yourself with irrelevant technicalities. Be respectful to your subject and your audience, and rely on the content of your images rather than on cute filters. The mood and moment of the image will be obvious in the RAW file—you can’t create it with Instagram-style filters.

But you’re not finished yet. In Part Four, we discuss how to transform your captured remembrance into a Memento.